Ground Rules for Effective Groups and Teams

My friends Henry Cloud and I have worked together speaking, writing and training group leaders. To coach small groups – especially newer groups – we created Making Your Small Groups Work, a DVD groups watch a few minutes at each meeting to learn to be an effective community.

Cover of DVD Making Your Small Group Work Dr Bill Donahue DVD for Groups and Teams


Here’s a short sample if you want to take a peek.

Watch Video:


Setting ground rules is one of the things we encouraged groups to do, so that everyone is clear about how to create an environment for growth in a group context.


Here are 5 to think incorporate into your group process or team setting.


Care: Being for each other and coming alongside one another on any group or team is essential. We need more encouragement and less criticism; more urging onward than looking backward. To say “I care” means we not on have empathy with others, but we show that in a tangible way with words, ideas, support and compassion.

This may sound a little “soft” for some settings, like working groups or corporate teams. I get that. But it can still be communicated in appropriate ways. When a group really cares about one another they can begin to care for one another.


Safety: Creating a “Come as You are Culture” as friend John Burke likes to say, you make it safe for full participation and risk-taking. It means we can show up angry, tired, strong, weak, excited or cautious – and that is all ok. Sure, you need to monitor how you express those realities depending on the setting and the culture of the group or organization.

But the basic premise remains. You avoid having a “you’d –better-act-and-talk-and-look-like-this-before-we-accept-you” culture that ignores reality and demeans people.


Authenticity: Yes, authenticity is an overworked word… but it remains an underutilized practice. I believe this is because it is often misunderstood. Sometimes it is interpreted as putting all your cards on the table all the time, totally revealing everything about yourself.

Not healthy. We have reality TV to thank for that perspective. Unbridled and unwise communication and action is not authenticity – it is simply overexposure. And, like too much sun without sunblock, it does more damage than most relationships can tolerate.

Or, people fake authenticity with trite phases and clichés.  “I totally understand what you mean!”  “Wow thanks for putting yourself out there, Susan. It felt so real.”  Or what a women said in a group I was in “I hate my husband, he’s a creep!” That was certainly real…but was it wise to share in the second meeting of a small group just learning to become a community and trying to take basic risks?


Growth: We are told to “urge one another toward love and toward good deeds” and groups are a great place for that. We get so selfish, so cynical, so absorbed in personal realities that pushing one another toward growth is neglected. But if I am listening, I am eager to call the best out of you and watch you thrive.

Once a member asked me, “And how do you act with integrity and honor your boss even though now you realize he might never change his abrupt way of communicating?” He wanted me to understand I have a choice – my actions and reactions are under my control, regardless of what he says or does. I can be different. I can love. I can serve.


Help: Groups and teams flourish when members help one another in tangible ways. “Mike, I can get that report for you online and save you a few minutes of research time.” “Christine, let me take care of the kids for an hour while you get some quiet time – or just go shop!” Little helps make a big difference.


Let me know if I can ever help you or your teams get better at creating greater community and a vibrant group culture.


In the meantime, ask yourself:

Which of these 5 “habits” or Ground Rules can we make a reality in our group or team?

What will it take for us to make this a normal part of the culture?



Are You Ready for Shared Leadership?

Shared Leadership Dr Bill I am a proponent of a flatter leadership culture. I believe in teamwork, shared responsibility, very little hierarchy and a more collaborative approach. Not only does it work – it works better. While a number of leadership “gurus” continue to act and teach like the Big Dog Leader model is a given (most then are well over age 50), a rising groundswell of leaders are opting out of the model. They are dropping like flies from organizations that thrive on hierarchy and the Command and Control model espoused at most Leadership Conferences.

So I am thrilled to see the changes that are coming. But here’s the question…


Are we – are YOU — ready for shared leadership?


Here are a few things that shared leadership implies. And you might have a few more so join the conversation.

1)    Shared leadership means shared blame. Ok, I know that you intellectually agree, but are you willing to take your share of the heat when things get hot? Or even more than your share?  When I coach organizations building a flatter leadership structure, the “underlings” are thrilled to be handed an oar or two, to row with the crew.  But I wonder if they are just as willing to grab a bucket when the boat takes on water in the storm? Are you willing to take the criticism, the blame for the loss or the downturn, or be confronted about the misfire?

2)    Shared leadership means deeper communication more often.  The more people involved in a process the more talking you need to do. That might mean more emails, more updates, more quick “check-in” meetings like Lencioni advocates in Death by Meeting. You ready for that?

3)    Shared Leadership means longer decision-making. I think this is generally good, but it takes some getting used to. I would advocate that, in the long run, you get better decisions and have less “clean up” to do when the solo leader goes rogue and makes a lousy hire or a bad decision “from the gut” (which is often code for “Let’s do it my way because I’m always right and I am in control). But decisions by a team take longer than solo leadership decisions.

4)    Shared Leadership means giving in and sometimes giving up. Of course, “real leaders” NEVER give up. Mandela is a great one to speak to this. In his book “Mandela’s Way” he has a chapter entitled, “Leading from the Back.” You need to read it. It comes after “Leading from the Front” so he is not opposed to being our front at times. But a willingness to step back and let other leaders have their way is an art that requires patience, trust and humility – a quality lacking in many “Big Dog” leaders. Are you ready to play second fiddle…or no fiddle at all?

5)    Share Leadership means shared success. Are you ready to share the glory, the rewards, the perks, the status symbols, and the “corner” office(s)? Many are not. If you have worked in a place where many people work longer and harder than the “point leader” but they get the special trips, income, organizational resources, power, freedom, vacation time, public recognition, and “benefit of the doubt” when stuff goes wrong, you know how that feels. It is a real demoralizing situation, especially when they pretend to be “a leader among equals” which again is code for “let’s share the problems but I get the goodies.” So are you willing to share the goodies equally among the leadership team? Even bonuses, and other rewards? We’ll see.


Shared leadership is more than an ideal. It is a commitment to becoming a real community of leaders with mutual accountability, vision, goals, trust, responsibility, blame and rewards.


It takes work, but it is really worth it. The team is stronger, the cause is more compelling, the results last longer and the process of “leadership succession” is virtually seamless, because there is no “mega-leader” to replace with another one. Instead, the team grows, changes, and new leaders are added as others move on. It is driven by much more than a person.


Are you ready for that?


Leadership Destroys Community

Leadership Destroys CommunityWhat kind of leadership destroys community and fractures a team? What role do leaders play in the process of fostering (or inhibiting) a sense of unity among team members, group leaders and staff? Here are some pitfalls to personally avoid and to confront in others when individualism trumps community. I have seen too much of this kind of leadership lately, and so I decided to revisit this topic.


Blinded by Vision

A vision is only as good as the reality it produces. Leaders obsessed with an ideal picture of what could be, fail to embrace what truly is. They live on vision fumes. Teammates and followers become frustrated and soon trust in the leader vaporizes. Activist and Pastor  Bonhoeffer famously observed “the one who loves his dream of community more than the community itself destroys the latter.” We could paraphrase: “The who loves his or her personal vision more than the people being envisioned, alienates them.”  It is easy to idealize our cause, mission, product launch, set of values or our service to a needy community, while ignoring the impact of our self-centered vision on the very people we are called to help.


Pre-occupied with Structure

When the model becomes the master community building’s a disaster (a cute rhyme but a deep truth). I have witnessed this in too many places—model-driven versus value-led leaders get obsessed with “the way” instead of looking at the values and processes that get you there. The structure serves the people; the people don’t serve the structure. Fluent teams and shared leadership mitigate against this. Top-down, top-dog leadership models tend to reinforce ineffective structure and promote unhealthy leaders.


Decidedly Irresponse-ible,

Any initiative requires strong leadership from the leadership team designated to carry out the venture. Leaders are “the voice” for the initiative and the guide to others seeking to build it. But there’s more. A leader who shuns the input of others and fails to consider their collective wisdom and insights is no longer responsible, leaving followers disconnected and devalued. This lack of response is the result of a failure – or a desire – to listen with empathy, respect and for the purpose of learning. Michael Hoppe’s Active Listening is a big help here. It takes some humility – and that goes a long way.


Focused on “Self”- Improvement

The inclination to use people instead of empowering them kills any team or community. When leaders make decisions from self-interest or self-promotion others lose respect for those leaders and then passion for the shared mission fizzles. Team leaders design meetings to meet personal needs or interests; staff members focus mostly on numbers and the success of big events; senior leaders make decisions to enhance personal agendas, and all this happens at the expense of the people we are called to lead.


Let’s look at our own leadership approach and style – are we killing the very thing we are working so hard to bring life to? If, so it’s time to change.

We’re All in Rehab

We’re All in Rehab (So a little grace goes a long way)


We're all in Rehab














Like many of you we’ve had our share of challenges the last few months. To give you perspective, we are sending our Christmas letter just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. The week before Christmas my wife had a serious fall, broke her leg and damaged some ligaments. This was followed by 2 injuries to my basketball-playing daughter, a junior in high school. Not to be outdone, I followed with a back injury, and my 83-year old mother who lives up the road rose to the occasion by having some health challenges.


In January our living room was filled with walkers, icepacks, ace-bandages, crutches, and a motorized scooter. It looked like a rehab center on steroids. But it gets better – this past week my wife and daughter were in a car wreck on an icy hill. Thankfully they’re fine, but it was a traumatic event fraught with great potential for disastrous results.


Initially, I did not see the rapid-fire stream of text messages popping on my phone – I was teaching a class.  But soon I saw the screen flashing, and what I read was terrifying. Dad!!! Accident!!! Please call!! DAD!!!!! Help! !!!! Call us now!!! Immediately I got hold of my wife and discovered all were Ok.


I left my university office after dealing with the aftermath of the accident, and stopped at our little coffee shop before leaving campus. “Hi, Dr. Donahue, how may I help you?” the student-attendant asked warmly. “Just a cup of coffee. What do I owe you?”


“Nothing,” she replied with a wry smile. “It’s your luck day.” Really? You’re kidding me. Please…my family doesn’t need any more ‘luck.’


I smiled gently back as if to say, “Dear child, you have no idea how wrong you are.”


“No…really. It’s perfect timing. The graduate student who was just here said, ‘I’m buying coffee for the next person who walks up here. Just tell them to have a great day and enjoy the coffee.’”


I had come to the shop looking for a little caffeine; instead I got a double-shot Venti cup of grace. More than what I needed. Much more than I deserved.


Now I really smiled, and she was beaming with joy. She was getting such a kick out of my response, just standing there, a sense of wonder and irony filling my soul…ambushed by grace. She had no idea what was happening but she was pleased with the joy that filled the room along with the aroma of a free coffee.


And, as though that wasn’t enough, I was graced once more as I left the building. The university is not very far from Lake Michigan, and a light, gentle snow was falling. Lake effect snow that can come briefly when the cool winter air meets the moisture off the water.


It was a slow, quiet snowfall. Large, floating flakes that calmly drifted toward the earth. Not a sound was heard as I walked to my car through the forested area that surrounds the parking lot. Quiet, still, peaceful, restful, beautiful.


And there, in the quiet, I heard the Voice…the still, small Voice. No one heard it but me. Because it was just for me.  The Voice compelled me to see a reality that was greater than my circumstances. The grace of God was coming resting upon me like the steady, beautiful snow, blanketing my sorrow, worry and fear with joy, peace and hope.


It was as though God said,


Bill…learn from this snow and experience my goodness and favor. Feel it as it rests on your head and lands refreshingly on your tongue. This is my grace on you.


To be sure, at times I pour it out in one thunderous heap that buries you in love and healing in times of extreme trial and suffering; but this time, there is no grace blizzard in the forecast. This time it comes as a gentle but relentless shroud of comfort, wrapping around your frustrated self and weary heart.


Your steady flow of life’s challenges is now met by My steady flow of grace. Like a small cup of free coffee, or a gentle, quiet snowfall, enjoy the little gifts of grace I am providing for the journey.


And remember…My grace is always sufficient for you.


I needed that. I really needed that.


You see we are all in Rehab. We are all hobbling around on the crutches of uncertainty, anger, fear, loneliness and grief. And we all need grace. Lot’s of it, we assume.


That’s ok. There’s plenty to go around…there’s no shortage of supply…no lack of spiritual resources.


But the good news is we only need a little.


Because a little grace can go a long way.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.


The Story-telling Leader

The Story-telling Leader Qutoe Don't underestimate the power  of a story. Dr Bill Donahue

The Story-telling Leader – Transcribed

Hey I was driving in Dallas, Texas consulting with a team there and I was coming to an intersection and it was absolutely one hundred-percent obvious as I went into the intersection that I was going to have a collision, a t-bone kind of collision, and in order to prepare myself for the impact there were some psychological prep that took place but also just a sense of terror as this happened because the car the oncoming lane decided to make a left turn in front of me. So as it did it did it very slowly, that’s what surprised me it wasn’t trying to cut through quickly as I was coming through the intersection of just kind of crept slowly in their SUV through the intersection. It became obvious that I was going to hit them and the person in the car looking out the passenger window knew it was obvious as well, that they were going to be impacted. And then at the last moment something happened it counter intuitive thought that for a moment, and all this happens in a split second, for a moment I basically wanted to dismiss.

But I did pay attention to it and that counter-intuitive thought said, “Don’t break accelerate.” Uh… excuse me because this was probably thirty to forty feet from collision time, I’m doing about thirty or so miles an hour, they’ve just pulled slowly in front of me and frankly that the pavement’s wet from a light rain that had been falling. But that was what ultimately saved me because had hit the brakes I would have slid and had the collision, instead slightly acceleration in a quick turn allowed me to bypass the person and go around them. It was a terrifying moment, the last thing I wanted was an accident or to hurt anyone. But that counter-intuitive thought, that insight, that maybe god moment, whatever it was allow me to makes some change in that particular circumstance.


See I just told you a story it’s a very revealing and compelling story to me. But it’s a story I can use in a number of ways and leaders should use their stories and the stories of their organization to lead. So I’m going to give you 3 or 4 types real quickly of stories that are powerful.


Campfire stories, that’s when you look to the past, the people who’ve been around for awhile say here’s what it was like when I got here, here’s how the organization started, and do you remember when we put this team together two years ago? We were scared; we never thought we could pull this off. Campfire stories go back into the past and remind people of the journey and how you got where you are today.


A second kind of stories is what I call an iconic story. It captures what it is you’re trying to do as a group, a team or an organization. Remember when Mike came into the ER room? He was on the brink of death but because of Sandy doing her job with triage work and because we were able to bring the right technology into the room and because you Stevie anesthesiologist did your work, and Rebecca you brought your surgical experienced to this; you go around the room and you say look because of all that we did he’s alive today or this person’s alive today.


That allows you to see that this is what we exist for and you can take an iconic story in turn it into kind of a third kind of story which is a vision story, though often vision stories come from outside the organization. We tell the story from another group, another team, a book we’ve read, something that says do you see this happening we can be like that so if you see something in another group or organization that you can leverage to inspire your people that’s a vision story those are very powerful.


And the fourth kind is simply what I told earlier, which was a personal story. Personal stories help the leader connect emotionally with their team, can be used for teachable moments like I did in the sense of the encouraging you to pay attention to those counter-intuitive thoughts sometimes. And sometimes they can just simply be humorous, it could be a fun self-effacing story that says hey I’m just like you, I have the same problems and issues and life and you get the connect a little bit more with your people and you lighten the room up a little bit with a humorous story.


A Story-telling Leader can leverage the power of story for their leadership and for the benefit of their group or team organization. Don’t underestimate the power of a story.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

The School of Adversity

It’s compulsory education for every person on the planet. You simply must attend the School of Adversity.

School of Adversity Quote - There is no education like adversity

You need only meet 1 of 2 entrance requirements and you are automatically enrolled. No need to go online or show up at registration. If you 1) have a pulse or, 2) you can fog a mirror, you’re enrolled. Mandatory. There are no vouchers and no “school choice” options available. Once enrolled, classes begin immediately and might be held any day of the week, 365 days a year. There are no vacation days and no holidays (but there are LOTS of sick days).

It is likely each of us will take different classes in the School (Stomach Flu 101, My Teenager Hates Me 407, Chronic Unemployment 511- a graduate level course) and probably we’ll have different majors. NOTE: majors are assigned, rarely chosen. Some students will find themselves in the popular Financial Ruin Program or taking several courses in the Perpetual Pain Department. And almost everyone does a minor in Annoying Facebook Friends.

But no one gets a pass. Ever.

There are no strings you can pull. No Congressman or Senator can get you out or provide an appointment to a less rigorous program (like enrolling in the popular School of Rock – sorry, Jack Black).  There is no AP credit or credit transfers from other highly acclaimed, elite programs like the School of Hard Knocks (I spent a couple semesters there – it was hard…very, very hard).

Like it or not, you must enroll in the School of Adversity.

But don’t worry; no one can make you graduate. Actually, no one graduates. Ever. It’s like continuing education for CPA’s or required HR training classes on wellness management. Classes start and continue all the way to infinity… and beyond. Well, I suppose this is a graduation day. But you really do not want to hear about it.

Also, there are no online or virtual courses. Every class is live, has no official professor, and always takes place in the Experiential Learning Lab. All classes are on campus, but it is easy to get there. The campus address is: 5 Your Location, Anywhere, Earth.

Another bummer is cost. The School can be quite expensive. Actual costs may vary from student to student, and there are no scholarships or financial aid. Everyone pays full price regardless of how many classes you are taking, so you might as well load up early. Heck, I knew a guy who was carrying 42 hours one semester, and he almost died. Really, it almost killed him. He said he learned more that semester than in any other. But it was brutal. Made Med School and MIT look like kindergarten classes.

One thing you want to avoid at all costs – taking classes alone. As a matter of fact, going through the School of Adversity is a lot better if someone takes the classes with you. It is not only allowed, it is encouraged! (You can share answers, ask for help and solve the same problems using the same solutions others have already discovered! They are all cataloged in the Wisdom Library if you take the time to find them. That part is very cool.)

Actually, large families, small groups, neighborhood communities, and sometimes – this is hard to imagine – entire countries have gone through a class together! It makes the School of Hard Knocks look easy by comparison.

There is something about doing it together that not only makes it better, but each class seems to get a little easier to handle; the surprise quizzes are not so surprising, the tests require less preparation and study, and you tend to get higher grades. Did I mention that grades matter?

How you perform prepares you for the next class, though it might be in a different department. For example, I did well some years ago in the introductory Facing Your Fears 101 class because I had already taken Working in a High-Crime Area 201. Facing Your Fears is usually a pre-requisite for all 200-level classes, but for some reason I was forced to take WHCA 201 first. That happens quite often. Classes are rarely offered in logical order. (Very annoying. But there is an elective to help with that now: Annoyances and Petty Frustrations 001 is available whenever you plan a vacation or prepare for Christmas.)

And, surprisingly at first, many students report a sense of joy and gratitude after completing a particularly difficult class! Kind of counter-intuitive  to say the least, though I confess I understand.

Well, I am off to class. Right now I am just beginning Character Growth 204 with a group of friends. There is no syllabus so we do not know what will happen. But we are told by the Administration that we will have the choice to “become bitter or better” as a result of what we experience. Not sure I am looking forward to all of it, but I hear they do have recess and a snack!

Since Christmas I have been enrolled in several courses of moderate but annoying difficulty: Your Wife Broke Her Leg at Christmas 305, Daughter Badly Sprained Ankle in Championship Game 208, I Threw My Back Out Sunday 401 (an intensive 3-day seminar), Son’s Car Needs 3rd Repair in Two Weeks 510, and The Water Pump for Your Home Broke 211.

I am discovering that the School of Adversity while not always a fun place to visit is a great place to learn.

I am getting better at responding with joy in the struggle of pain, listening more carefully to God and others when trials come crashing down, and building up some tolerance to the dozens of small annoyances that pester me like sand flies on the beach of life.

And I continue to gain empathy and respect for the awful circumstances and challenges others face worldwide (in doctoral-level courses I dare not even name and, thankfully, will hopefully never have to take.)

Like you, I am a full-time student in the School of Adversity. So off to class I go. Oh no, my car won’t start…That’s just great…I’ll be late for class.

Oh, wait a minute. This IS my class. Here we go. Hope I pass. Wanna join me?


What Courses are you taking in the School of Adversity? What are you learning? How can you and others get through it together?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Living an Integrated Life

Balance is a myth. Living an integrated life instead creates focus, authenticity and self confidence.


Living an Integrated Life - Image of Man Balancing on a Rope












Living an Integrated Life – Transcribed

Let’s talk about living an integrated life. It’s a concept Bill George brings out in his book True North. I use this tool among others when I work with the LeaderSync Group, my organization as we coach and help develop leaders, leadership teams and groups. One of the sections in there is this idea of bringing all the components of your life together and holistic functioning way. George says, “Don’t get this confused with balance that’s this is not a code word for balance, balance I believe is a myth that a misnomer.” But it is about focus an integration of the key areas like relationships, work-life, personal growth as a leader, leadership challenges, skill development etc. So George focuses on that, we do as we work with and coach leaders. He quotes John Donahoe who is the CEO of Ebay seceded May, Meg Whitman. Donahoe says, “The struggle is constant as the trade-offs and choices don’t get any easier as you get older. George says living an integrated life is a challenging thing to do and allows you to live a life that when the highs are high you don’t get cocky and when you hit the low moments now you don’t get depressed and go into despair because your integrating a number of components together so you have more of a whole life as a leader.

I focus on three areas when I do my leadership development work; story, soul and strategy. Story is mining things like you’re defining moments as a leader; you’re driving values, and some of the primary strengths that you have that got you where you are. Let’s mine those, let’s find out where they came from, you know, how they work, how they contribute to your leadership growth so we work a bit in story.

Then we look at soul which is code for inner life. It’s not necessarily a religious word though, people of faith that I work with like to delve into that a little more. But it’s the idea of, what is my emotional health like? What’s my relational capacity right now? What are the core practices I can engage in to help me create and a solid core inner life? So the character formation takes place in the present, in the now.

Story of course about past. Soul is sort of like where am I now internally and how am I addressing my world? And then the third area of strategy is more like helping people create a vision framework and look at what I call a focus map. Where do I put my energy and resources as I go forward? What are the potential resources I can mine? What can I do to take next steps in person personal growth and development and in my own leadership effectiveness?

So I look at story, soul and strategy as I … my organization LeaderSync work with leaders and teams.

So you might want to reflect on that today.


What about those three areas of your life do you need to invest more time and energy in to create this sense of integration so you can meet the leadership challenges that you need to meet in your world today?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

Competitive VS Cooperative Groups or Teams

Competitive vs Cooperative Leadership in Groups or Teams quote black print on grey paper

What is the environment like in your core groups or teams? You can make it function better if you understand the dynamics involved when members are more competitive than cooperative.




I do a lot of work helping organizations with their groups and teams. How they function together, how they work effectively, how people relate within them and I’ve been looking again at some work by Johnson and Johnson who wrote the book Joining Together, which the book is a lot about group theory, group communication, group skills in the context of groups and teams. They had a great section on whether or not the environment in a given group or teams is competitive or cooperative. Competitive versus cooperative and I think it’s a good distinction. They actually refer to some behavioral studies by Jack Gibb in nineteen sixty one who sort of unpacked this a little more. He said there’s a series of cooperative types of behavior, behavior and a series of competitive behaviors in groups and teams and he outlined six of them and puts them in contrast, I’ll touch them briefly. In the competitive environment people are more evaluative and in the cooperative environment more descriptive, in other words you get defensive in your behavior because you’re constantly evaluating others, evaluating ideas, you have the sense that you are right, and they are wrong, So you’re constantly scrutinizing verses describing what you see, describing an idea and letting others in the engaged in it. Competitive environments are more about control. Because I’m right, I want to control the conversation, I want to control the tactics and strategies versus having a problem orientation. A group that’s more cooperative says there’s a problem or issue let’s unpack it, let’s look at it, let’s look at a variety of opinions ideas, ways to solve it. The competitive group is strategically focused verses being open to any spontaneity at all. A cooperative group would have more of a sense of spontaneity and say okay let’s try that or let’s discuss that or let’s put that on the table and really wrestle with it. Versus saying, “No, I’ve got the strategy, it’s right, I know where I’m going, why do we need to brainstorm right now?” You may not say that publicly but team members who communicate bad are basically saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong, why are we having this discussion?” The competitive versus cooperative tension also comes out when we’re looking at neutrality verses empathy. Gibb says that neutrality is something that communicates indifference and indifference creates defensiveness in people in other words your acting like I don’t care, I don’t care how you feel, I don’t care what you think, I’m neutral, I’m placid, I’m calm, I’m straight faced, I show no empathy about you, your idea, your situation, or problem. Because of that it makes people defensive in groups make some posture that way and hold on to control, that kind of thing. Also says that some people in groups see themselves as superior to others verses as equals. See in the competitive environment we see ourselves as above others, and we’re trying to win, and we’re always right, we don’t see people on an equal plain as in the cooperative type group environment I think most teams should strive for. So the idea that my opinion is right, I’m better, I’m higher up the food chain, whatever it is, the sense of superiority starts to have a great impact on the group or team. And finally, they say there’s a comparison between centrality and uh… or I shouldn’t say centrality, it’s more spread out certainty, there’s a sense of certainty in the competitive environment. Again, I know, I had the answer, let’s move ahead with my idea. Versus the sense of what they call, and it’s kind of a more technical were provincia, provincialism in the sense of I can say, hmm that’s an interesting idea let’s talk about that I’m open, I have a point of view, but I’m open to discussion. So I’d ask you to ask your groups and teams, are they more focused on a competitive environment who wins he’s right, what ideas are supreme, who’s in charge, or is it a more cooperative environment where yes we recognize the differences in roles but we want to create an environment where there’s empathy, interaction, a sense of equality, a sense of engagement. How’s your team doing? How are your teams doing where you work? You might want to reflect on that today.

Bi-vocational Pastors

Christianity Today is a great resource for leadership articles, you can sign up for their Leadership Journal articles here.  I highly recommend it as a valuable resource.


Here is the full article I was  using when referencing bi-vocational pastors in its entirety  for those who do not wish to sign up yet.


Originally posted on Christianity Today’s “Leadership Journal”


Two young pastors are finding fresh ways to combine pastoral ministry and entrepreneurial ventures.

Chris Kopka


In the mid 20th century, most seminary discussions about the apostle Paul’s tent-making were likely theoretical. Yes, there were part-time pastors—but most of them would never have gone to seminary.

How times have changed! Today, seminarians from even well-known schools are starting to talk openly about the “stark realities” of bivocationalism. Some of the conversation around bivocationalism is driven by the weak job market. Seminary students aren’t exactly bombarded with well-paying jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, some see bivocationalism as a ministry plus, a way to keep one foot planted in the secular world.

Recent research from The Barna Group reveals that over 50 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) and younger Gen X-ers believe some form of entrepreneurship will be part of their career path. I’m guessing young seminarians are no exception.

Because I help start faith-based businesses, I have regular conversations with many young pastors. I have come to see bivocationalism as a gift. My relationships with members of the next generation of bivocational pastors have shown me that even their tent-making efforts are part of their calling.

According to data from the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors report being bivocational. But what are the most common “second jobs” for these pastors? How many bivocational pastors start businesses versus hold a “job”? Are bivocational pastors thriving or just surviving? We know little about this phenomenon. Yet we can start to answer some of these questions by seeing how two younger pastors in Minneapolis, Tim Schuster and Scott Woller, have embraced an entrepreneurial version of bivocationalism.

Moving in Circles

Tim Schuster graduated from Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2012. During his time there, he worked part-time as a youth pastor. He also planted a church. What started out as the “Midtown Church Project” became a fast-growing community that recently decided to drop the word “Project.” Why? Because they started seeing themselves as a bona fide church, just a few months after Tim’s graduation.

“When people say `plant a church,’ what they actually mean is `start a worship?service.'”

Midtown is an unconventional kind of church. According to Tim, “When people say ‘plant a church,’ what they actually mean is ‘start a worship service.’ Our contemporary notion of church is a group of people, facing in the same direction, where a stage becomes an altar. Then we look at programs, ministry, and service projects as ‘extra credit.'”

Midtown wanted something different. Within 10 minutes of the start of a Midtown “service,” chairs (and attendees) move from facing forward and are arranged into circles of 5 to 10 people in order to facilitate conversation.

Midtown Church is, in essence, a series of conversational circles. Brandon Schulz, a social media entrepreneur, describes Midtown as “the closest church to embodying how social media works, except it’s live, in person.” The relational emphasis doesn’t mean skimping on theology. Midtown is unapologetically orthodox in its teaching and Tim talks boldly about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and work.


What you won’t see, though, is a sermon or traditional service structure. Tim sees the primary role of the pastor as a facilitator. This stems from the Midtown founders’ shared fascination with self-organizing models. Tim even researched Tupperware parties and “Open Space” business conferences as part of the design for Midtown.

One key benefit Tim sees to bivocationalism is how it’s enabled the church to take a different approach to money. Tim and his Midtown cofounders decided that the pastor would not draw a substantial income from the church (and perhaps none at all). Why? They feared that money might get in the way of forming and deepening relationships, especially in the early days of planting the church.

Tim didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. He was considered for a planting grant from another church, but, because he’d only recently been married, was told he was “not ready.” (A good caution against being too quick to tell young, innovative pastors they’re “not ready.”) In hindsight he’s grateful for having been turned down. Through the grant evaluation process Tim realized he was in a classic struggle between “passion” (for Midtown’s strategy of not forcing economic ties between pastor and congregants) and “paycheck” (the reality that life would be a bit easier with seed funding).

Because of my work in faith-based business development, a friend introduced me to Tim to help him and Midtown’s other three original founders, Eric, Kelsey, and Jenna, find strategic options for the church, including income streams. Most of the business development I do is at the intersection of faith and financial services. This work connects me with many churches and ministries. Still, I found Midtown’s model remarkable.

Tim and I began a months-long series of conversations, thinking through bivocational options. For Tim, bivocationalism is one piece of an overall strategy. As he left his job as youth pastor, he actively sought an income-generating role to support his family that would also leave enough time for him and co-founder, Eric, to devote sufficient time to Midtown. Jenna, the fourth cofounder of Midtown, is now in seminary herself.

I asked Tim if seminary professors had introduced him to any role models, mentors or even examples of bivocational pastors. In short, the answer was “no.”

“If you don’t have a fulltime, paying role as a pastor, it’s somehow treated as a failure,” he said.

On reflection, though, he recalled that I had introduced him to a potential model for bivocationalism in Scott Woller, of Corner Coffee/Corner Church, as well as another entrepreneurial pastor in the Twin Cities. Ultimately, Tim decided to pursue an entrepreneurial path himself.

“Well Tim,” I said “I’m about to feature you and Scott in my writing. Perhaps you can become one of the role models.” Maybe future seminarians (as well as seminaries of the future) will realize that bivocationalism should not be seen as a failure, but in fact can be a successful strategy and a legitimate way of pursuing one’s calling.


Coffee Church

Scott Woller leads a church in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. Corner Coffee/Corner Church is actually two distinct legal entities sharing a single location—and the same vision. Monday through Saturday, Corner Coffee is, you guessed it, a coffee shop. Their product is coffee, although creating a sense of community is the underlying goal.

Given that a fair amount of this article was written in the coffee shop, I’m able to attest to the fact that Scott and his team are accomplishing this goal. Corner Coffee is a for-profit LLC that creates neighborhood jobs. While the coffee shop has never paid a salary for Scott or other church staff, 100 percent of the profits of the coffee shop go toward the church’s operating budget. The church, as a legal entity, is the sole shareholder of the coffee shop. Scott is, in effect, the coffee shop’s volunteer CEO.

Corner Coffee was conceived as a way to plant Corner Church in an urban setting. Being an Assemblies of God plant, members of that denomination would feel theologically quite at home at Corner Church, just so long as they don’t mind the espresso machine hissing in the background. By having a fully-functioning, profitable business six days per week, the separately incorporated church has very low overhead for Sundays, and is able to meet in a comfortable, casual setting. (By the way, it took two years for Corner Church to be profitable. Scott hastens to add that a coffee shop is not a way to make “easy money.”)

Being in a non-traditional environment is crucial for the work of Corner Church. The vast majority of the church’s Sunday attendees are formerly churched individuals, many of whom have been scarred by past church experiences. Some of these negative experiences involve issues with the offering plate. So to grow and reach new attendees, Corner Church must keep a low overhead and strive to keep pressure around giving low, especially for newer attendees. In addition, Scott explains that being held in a coffee shop allows Corner Church to be an important part of the neighborhood. Scott feels meeting in a coffee shop “as church” sends that signal quite naturally.

Scott never wants to have a conversation about why the church doesn’t pay taxes: Corner Coffee does! And he never wants the neighborhood to have a sense that the doors are closed or the parking lots are gated Monday through Saturday. And most of all, Scott doesn’t want the “church community to let their faith become dormant during the week. We want the church facility to encourage people to live out their faith every single day.”

Unlike Tim, Scott did not remain bivocational, nor did he intend to. Indeed, Scott doesn’t think of himself as a classic bivocational pastor. From the beginning his income has come from the church, even though initially it was a very modest income. Scott encourages people to view Corner Church (via the coffee shop) as an “investment,” not just a donation, one that creates jobs in the community and revenue for church replication.

Those investments are paying off. After several years, Scott draws a full income from Corner Church. Meanwhile the revenue from Corner Coffee is strong enough that Corner Church planted a second coffee shop/church this year in another urban neighborhood in Minneapolis, a neighborhood so secular local pastors call it the place church plants go to die. So Scott now has a pastor colleague embarking on an entrepreneurial journey similar to his, with a model that has been proven to work in an urban, secular setting.

Pastoring in a coffee shop presents unique opportunities. Scott can’t hide in an office and he certainly doesn’t face the common tendency for pastors to get stuck in a church bubble. He’s expected to be active in the neighborhood, to live in the community, and to be visible in the coffee shop while doing his work. It’s a different role for the pastor than what Scott was used to. “Growing up, the pastor was this lofty ‘Man of God’ in the town,” he says. “But this role of the pastor as being down-to-earth, a real person, has really become who I am.”

It’s not just him who has benefitted. The church has attracted members seeking greater authenticity and community. The whole vibe of the church fosters dialogue and allows people to be real.

“Instead of sitting inside a church building, wondering how we can get our community to come here, we’ve flipped things around,” Scott says. “We’re putting our church in the middle of the community.” Members of the community can come and enjoy the coffee shop, even if they don’t worship or identify as Christians. To Scott, “that’s the difference between putting a church inside a coffee shop and putting a coffee shop inside a church.”

Recently, a neighbor-customer who has been coming in for many years and had never attended church approached Scott. His mom was in the hospital, and though he was obviously nervous and awkward, asked if Scott would pray for his mom. “This is a non-churchgoer, during coffee shop time, engaging me as a pastor,” Scott said. “I know I would have missed that moment, and many more like it, if I were in a traditional church setting.”

Such stories should make us rethink bivocationalism. Is it solely something to adapt to out of necessity? Or, like Tim and Scott, can we also come to see it as a path to greater ministry success? Many still regard bivocationalism as a second-class calling. But given the current economic woes and the challenges of reaching an increasingly secular culture, perhaps it’s time to rediscover “tent-making” models of ministry.

Chris Kopka is helping launch an integrated business/ministry model around faith & finances with Brightpeak financial.


The Corner Church/Coffee Economic Model

The economic model for Corner Church/Corner Coffee has many moving pieces. The coffee shop is designed to become profitable within 2 years, church expenses start and remain incredibly low (approximately 20 percent of the expenses of most plants), and modest church planting funds are stretched as long as possible because of the low overhead. In time, we begin to take offerings as church members start to embrace principles of generosity. Stressing the church’s active involvement in the community is essential. I’ve found people are ready to give to something they feel really makes a difference. They see our coffee shop/church as being transparent and making a difference where they live and work. That makes it easy for them to give.—Scott Woller

My Role as a Christian Leader

My Role as a Christian Leader ImageWhen you think of Christian leadership and the opportunities you have to speak into the world of ideas, what responsibilities and obligations do you have? What are we to be spokespersons about? Political issues? Crisis situations? Are we only credible when we speak on matters of “religious” importance? DO we have the right and/or obligation to speak moral truths into economic issues or should we just stay out of it?



Having spent some time with Dallas Willard, Dan Scott and Victor Claar. I have been challenged to consider my role as a spokesperson in the world. Each of us is a spokesperson; we simply have greater or lesser numbers of people who are willing or able to hear our voices.

Here is what I understand I need to embrace in my life and speak up about as opportunities arise or situations dictate:

Human desire is always subject to what is truly good, for me and for the community. My desires are not a sufficient guide to behavior; they must be governed by that which is truly good and moral.

  1. I must live from a place of contentment with what I have but not with injustices that exist in the world. I can and should be dissatisfied with injustice, prejudice and oppression, but must find a way to be “content in all circumstances” in my own life so that my passions are rightly directed.
  2. I must declare the good news God offers to the world in my actions and character, in my words, decisions and relationships.
  3. To deal with economic and social issues I cannot wrongly say I should not be political – Life is deeply political and so is my faith! But it is NOT through political means (playing politics, as it were) that I will affect transformation.
  4. I must be a champion of the whole gospel for the whole world, not speak just a salvation message that is merely judicial and transactional, interested only in eternal destiny and ignorant of bringing hope and life to my culture today – the gospel (the good news about Jesus as king, lover, savior, friend, resurrected one, and world changer) affects the whole of creation as it is all being saved (as N.T. Wright so aptly teaches).
  5. The more I am satisfied with where I am the more influence I will have from that place. Constant frustration, envy, misplaced desire and discontent with my lot in life lead to a life of despair and chaos, not clarity and joy.
  6. I am in the continuing process of discovering my vocation and living that out in the world – this is the best way I can have impact and reflect who God has made me to be and how I can affect my world. I must help others I know understand and embrace this reality for themselves.
  7. Because I bear the Imago Dei – the image of God – I am called to reflect that image against poverty and indignity where I see it.
  8. I must first be a Kingdom-seeker and trust that God will provide all that I need.
  9. I must speak not only to immoral ideas and values but against immoral systems and processes that produce injustice and oppress the weak. I must do this without regard to personal reputation or position. Do what is right!


These are just a few insights from being with some amazing people for a couple days this week.


What insights are shaping you these days? What convictions do you have as a Christian “spokesperson” and leader? Where is it hard for you to speak out?